Monday, May 04, 2015

The Christian's Advantage (John 16:4-15)


I don’t know how you came to church today, but I bet you did not take a hovercraft or a flying car. That’s kind of disappointing, because in the movie Back to the Future II, Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled to 2015 and that’s how people were getting around. Doc Brown had invented a device called the Flux Capacitor that made time travel possible. Of course, by now I realize that there is no such thing as a Flux Capacitor. But imagine for a moment that you could put a Flux Capacitor in your car and travel to any point in time. Where would you go? In the first Back to the Future movie, Doc Brown tells Marty that they could even go back to witness the birth of Christ! I imagine many Christians would say that they would go back to any number of points during the earthly life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Maybe we would choose to go back to see Him feed the 5,000, or heal the man born blind, or raise Lazarus from the dead. Or maybe you would go back to see Him rise from the dead! That would be awesome, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it be better to have lived during the days when Jesus walked the earth than these days in which we live? If you were to ask Jesus that question, He would tell you, “No.” He would tell you that it is to your advantage that you are alive now, rather than then. I know that because it is exactly what He told His disciples here in this text.

Leading up to this passage, in the verses we have been looking at over the last few weeks, you recall that Jesus has been warning His disciples about the hardships that are going to come their way. They are going to be hated and persecuted, ostracized and potentially killed for their faith in Him. We see it happening in the world around us, and increasingly so here in America. Jesus says here in the latter part of verse 4, “These things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.” The idea is that while He was in the world, the animosity of the unbelieving world would be focused on Him. “But now,” He says, He is going away and things are about to change. Hours from the moment at which He spoke these words, He will be arrested, and by mid-day on the morrow, He will be nailed to the cross. Then the world will turn its animosity on those who follow Jesus by faith.

Jesus tells the disciples, “I am going to Him who sent Me.” There is no hint of sadness in this statement. He is being reunited with His Father. He is leaving behind the unpleasant environs of this sin-stained world to return to the glory which He has known from eternity past in heaven. And yet, Jesus says, “None of you asks Me, ‘Where are you going?’” This is difficult at first glance, because just hours earlier (in 13:36), Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” But Peter meant something more like, “Why are you leaving us?” than, “Where are You going?” His interests were entirely self-centered. That is somewhat understandable. He and the others have literally left everything behind to follow Jesus, and here Jesus says to them, “I’m leaving you all now.” The shock and sorrow of this news surely affected them all deeply, and it is hard to not be consumed with concern for one’s own self in times like that. Jesus says, “Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.”
He does not rebuke them for their sorrow. It is certainly to be expected. But as Jesus continues here in these verses, He seeks explains to them why they are better off if He leaves them.

In the same way, these words assure us that, even if it were possible to fire up the Flux Capacitor and go back to be physically present with Jesus, we are better off to live here and now, after His departure. He says that it is to our advantage. The reason has everything to do with the Person and work of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, coequal, codivine, and coeternal with God, even as the Father and Son are. Jesus refers to Him here as “the Helper.” Some translations use the word “Comforter” here. He is the Christian’s advantage in the world. So, how is the Holy Spirit our advantage in these days? The text supplies us with three answers.

I. The Holy Spirit comes to Christ’s followers (v7).

Ask any pastor you know, and he will likely tell you that one of the biggest frustrations in ministry is the absolute impossibility of being in two places at one time. Two people may be having surgery at the same time, two meetings going on at the same time, and so on. But I can only be in one place at one time, so sometimes I have to make hard choices. God is not like that. The Bible teaches that God is omnipresent. He is not confined or contained by space, but is “present at every point of space with His whole being.”[1] But, in the days of His flesh, the Lord Jesus was confined by space. Although He never ceased to be fully God, in His incarnation He became fully human. As a man, there were certain divine attributes, including omnipresence, that He had to (at least temporarily) lay aside. He could not be in more than one place at one time. But, if He departs, He says, “it is to your advantage,” indeed the whole world’s advantage. He says, “If I do not go away, the Helper (the Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”

Now, here we encounter something of a mystery. Why must Jesus go away in order for the Spirit to come to us? It is not, as Carson says, “that Jesus and the Holy Spirit cannot, for unarticulated metaphysical reasons, simultaneously minister to God’s people.”[2] The Holy Spirit and the Son of God have always been involved in the world, along with the Father, inseparably from Creation to the present day. We see it in accounts such as the baptism of Jesus. God the Son was in the water; God the Father spoke from heaven; and God the Holy Spirit descended upon the Son in the form of a dove. Additionally, even during the life and ministry of Jesus upon the earth, the Holy Spirit was actively at work in and through all that Jesus did.

So, why could Jesus not give the Spirit to all who believed in Him, and yet still remain in the world in His flesh? It is because the work of the Holy Spirit depends upon the full atonement of sin that Jesus made available to us in His death and resurrection. In Jesus’ death, He took all of our sin upon Himself, and received in Himself the full measure of its penalty beneath the outpouring of God’s righteous wrath. He became our substitute, and our sins were punished in His death, and conquered by His resurrection, so that we might be saved, redeemed and reconciled to God. Until that happened, the Spirit could not come upon us because we are born separated from God by the gulf of our sinfulness. But now that Christ has done this, and ascended back to His Father, He says, “I will send Him to you.”

The Holy Spirit is our blood-bought gift from God, the gift of God Himself, who comes to us to awaken us to our need for the redemption which Christ has provided for us. Unless the Spirit is sent, we remain dead in our trespasses and sins, unaware of the desperation of our condition and our need for the Savior. But in sending the Spirit to us, Christ is providing us with the means of being born again. The Spirit is He who gives us life in Christ. He converts us and seals us into our covenant relationship with God, making us God’s very own people. And moreover, He comes to dwell within us permanently so that we take the manifest presence of God with us wherever we go.

In the days of Jesus’ earthly life, if one were to ask, “Where is Jesus?”, the answer could be, “He is in Galilee,” or “He is in Jerusalem,” or something like that; but never more than one place at one time. But it is to our advantage that He has departed and sent His Spirit to us. Now, if one were to ask, “Where is Jesus?”, the answer is, “He is seated at the right hand of His Father in Heaven, but His Spirit, whom He has sent, is at work in the world wherever His followers are.” He is with our brothers and sisters in Nepal even now. He is with our brothers and sisters in Baltimore even now. But He has not taken leave of us to be with them. He is here with us, in us, as well. By going away and sending His Spirit, Jesus is no longer bound by space. He is everywhere His people are found, doing His work by His Spirit in us and through us.

What the disciples had to learn, and what we must as well, is that the Spirit has not come merely “to supply the absence of the Son, but to complete His presence” in the world, in the church, as His Spirit inhabits His people.[3] God is present in the world, of course everywhere at all times by virtue of His omnipresence, but in an especially manifest way, He is present wherever a believer in Christ happens to be. If you are a born-again Christian, when you go to work, God is going there with you. When you go home, He is going with you. When you go to the hospital, the funeral home, when you walk or drive down the street, when you go into the most pleasant or most dangerous place in the world, where His name is praised or where it is cursed, God Himself goes into those places with you because God the Holy Spirit indwells you. In a couple of weeks when our team assembles to engage once again in our night club ministry, they are taking God into that place with them. If we understand that, our perspective on those places and on our circumstances will be transformed. As the great J. C. Ryle put it, “The universal presence of the Holy Ghost in the Church is better than the visible bodily presence of Christ with the Church.”[4] That is also what Jesus is saying here. He said it was to our advantage that He go away, so that the Spirit would come to us.

Now secondly, we see that …

II. The Holy Spirit convicts the world (vv8-11).

I can remember when I was about 5 or 6 years old, I was at Disney World with my family, having a great time. And I would walk a while and stop and look around for a while, over and over again. There’s so many wonderful things to see and fun things to do there, a kid has to pause every now and then and take it all in, you know. My dad was wearing khaki pants that day. I remember that well. So if I stopped to look around, I’d just run and catch up with those khaki pants and reach up for his hand. But one time, I ran toward the nearest pair of khaki pants and looked up for a hand to grab, and it wasn’t my dad! I began to freak out, and before long, my parents came and found me – they were closer by than I realized. But for a moment, the sudden realization that I had been following the wrong khaki pants and reaching out for the wrong hand filled me with terror. I was lost, separated from my father and mother, and didn’t even know it. Thank God it wasn’t too late when I realized it.

Well folks, when it comes to the spiritual condition of a lot of people in the world, they are just like that. They are taking in all the great sights and sounds, the thrills and chills of the world, but they are following the wrong footsteps, that they are lost, and separated from God the Father. The thing is, they don’t even know it. They think they are doing all right. They are marching headlong for destruction and they neither know nor care. This is where the convicting work of the Holy Spirit comes in.

Jesus said in verse 8, “When He comes He will convict the world.” He will convict the world on three accounts: sin, righteousness, and judgment. In verse 9, Jesus says that the Spirit will convict the world “concerning sin.” If you are sick, and you know you are sick, you go to the doctor. Likewise, if you are a sinner, and you know you are a sinner, then you run to the Savior. But the thing is, most sinners don’t know they are sinners. They can always justify their sin. They don’t call it sin, they come up with kinder, gentler words for it. They point to others who appear to be morally worse than they are. They offer up some extenuating circumstance as an excuse for their sin. But God calls them sinners, and His perspective is the only one that matters for all eternity. They need to be awakened to the reality of their sinfulness. Yet, they can never understand this about themselves until or unless the Holy Spirit brings the truth to bear on their souls. This is what He does when He convicts the world of sin. He brings light upon the darkness of their hearts and exposes that all is not well between them and God. And the most heinous sin of all that He brings conviction upon is the sin of rejecting the Savior. Jesus said that the Spirit convicts the world concerning sin “because they do not believe in Me.”

People often ask if there is an unpardonable sin, and if so, what it is. Jesus answered that question in Matthew 12:31 when He said, “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.” To blaspheme the Spirit is to shun His convicting work and deny His testimony in the world for Christ. When the Spirit moves upon someone convicting them of their sin, and they do not turn to the Savior, they blaspheme the Spirit. Jesus says that this cannot be forgiven. The simple fact is that this sin cannot be forgiven, for unless we come to Christ, none of our sins are forgiven! This is why, repeatedly in the Scriptures, we find the warning that if, today, we hear His voice, we must not harden our hearts! He is convicting us of our sin, showing us our need for the Savior, out of His kindness which leads us to repentance and eternal life. He does continually what Jesus did in the world. He is shining the light of God’s truth upon the darkness of men’s hearts in order to convict and convert them to saving faith in Jesus. If the Spirit did not convict the world of sin, then no one could ever be saved, for no one would realize that they even need to be saved!

Then Jesus says in verse 10 that the Spirit convicts the world “concerning righteousness.” We may wonder what righteousness can be found in the world, and if there is any, why anyone would need to be convicted of it. When we read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ interaction with the Jewish leaders of His day, we see that there was plenty of righteousness – but it was self-righteousness, not the righteousness which makes one right before God. It is a righteousness that is based on one’s own assumed goodness. This is the righteousness that the prophet Isaiah said was nothing more than filthy rags before God. Because of our sinful condition, our perception of righteousness is perverted before we come under the Spirit’s conviction. We think we just have to be good, or at least better than the next guy; that we merely have to be sincere, to try harder and do better. But this is not righteousness before God. It is filthy rags. Jesus constantly pointed the world to Himself as the standard for righteousness. He denounced the pseudo-righteousness of those who assumed that God was pleased with them because of their hypocritical deeds. And the Holy Spirit continues that work. Jesus said He convicts the world concerning righteousness, “because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me.” It is the Holy Spirit who brings it to bear on human hearts that Jesus is the only righteousness that pleases the Father. And we see His righteousness vindicated through His cross, His resurrection, and His ascension. The world considered themselves righteous, and crucified Jesus as a sinner. But Jesus has gone to the Father and the world no longer sees Him. But the Spirit is ever convicting that self-righteousness is denounced before God, and our only hope of being righteous before Him is to be covered in the righteousness of Christ by faith in Him.

Finally, Jesus says that the Spirit convicts the world “concerning judgment.” Like our understanding of sin and righteousness, the world’s sense of judgment is twisted by man’s sinful condition. We think we know what is right and wrong, what is fair and unfair, what is good and bad. By the world’s justice, Jesus and His followers are deranged lunatics, and His word is nothing but empty platitudes. All across the United States, our justice system hands down decisions on a consistent basis that are at odds with the revealed will of God. By this world’s notion of justice, every single one of us who dares to believe, speak, and practice the plain teachings of Scripture could be branded an outlaw within a few weeks. But not before God. As Isaiah said, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil.” That word of woe can be pronounced over the entire world’s corrupted notion of justice. But the Spirit convicts concerning judgment, as though to proclaim to the world, “The final court has not yet convened!” Christopher Darden, the prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, wrote in his book In Contempt, “I never got a chance … to cross-examine him. … I wanted to tell him that there was another court that would hear his case one day, with a judge who would try racist cops and murderers. A court where everyone will have to account for his actions alone.”[5] Indeed, that word is true for all people.

Jesus said that the Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment because the ruler of this world has been judged. The ruler of this world, in this context, is Satan. He has been judged, Jesus said. The final strike of the gavel would come on the next day when Jesus died for our sins. Hebrews 2:14 says that Jesus’ death rendered the devil powerless. He is a defeated, judged, and condemned foe. But this is a warning to the world. If the world is playing “follow the leader” with Satan, they will end up where he is. As Carson writes, “All false judgment is related to him who was a liar from the beginning, whose children we are if we echo his values (8:42-47). If he stands condemned by the triumph of the cross, the false judgment of those who follow in his train is doubly exposed.”[6] In John 3:36, Jesus did not say that the world is awaiting condemnation, but is condemned already. The Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment because their judgment is perverted; God’s is righteous and true; and they will face it unless they turn to the Savior.

So, we see that it is to our advantage that Jesus has gone away and sent His Spirit. He comes to us. He convicts the world. You and I cannot make people see their sin, their self-righteousness, and the peril they will face before God’s judgment seat. But the Holy Spirit can, does, and will. What we can do is pray that our friends and loved ones who do not know the Lord will sense this conviction, and turn in repentance and faith to Jesus while they have opportunity in this life to do so. And we can allow the Spirit to so live through us that they see how He is able to transform our lives to reflect the righteousness of Christ. Our Spirit-empowered lives, words, and testimonies for Christ are witnesses in the Spirit’s convicting case against this world.

Now finally, we come to the third answer to how the Spirit is our advantage in this world in Christ’s physical absence.

III. The Spirit Communicates to the Church (vv12-15)

Jesus said a lot to His disciples over the course of three-plus years of ministry together. But He didn’t tell them everything they needed to know. He says here in verse 12, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” When our hearts are sorrowful, as His disciples were, it is hard to process too much information. Maybe Jesus meant something like that. Or maybe He meant that the disciples would not yet be able to understand these things at the moment. Or, He may have meant that they would be overwhelmed at the very thought of trying to carry out the remaining truths He wished to disclose to them. It is probably the case that all of these were on Jesus’ mind as He said this. “But,” He said to them, “when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth.” What Jesus could not impart to them then, the Spirit would when He came.

The focus of verses 12-15 is extremely important, but I am not going to spend a lot of time on them today. We actually covered these verses previously in a message I preached back on February 8, entitled the Spirit and the Word. In that message, I presented the case that these verses, along with those in John 14:25-26 apply in a unique way to the eleven men seated around Jesus on that night – His apostles – and their close associates. And the point I tried to make then was that these verses together describe the Holy Spirit’s role in inspiring the Scriptures that we have come to know as the New Testament. From John 14:25-26, we considered how the Spirit had inspired a trustworthy account of Jesus’ words and works in the Gospels. But then from these verses, John 16:12-15, we considered how the Spirit had inspired trustworthy guidance for Christian doctrine and practice in Acts and the Epistles, or letters, of the New Testament; as well as trustworthy information about the things to come in the prophetic portions of the New Testament, concentrated chiefly in the book of Revelation. And all of these writings that the Spirit has inspired serve ultimately to bring glory to Jesus Christ, as we see in verse 14.

I am not going to repeat all that I said on that day. I am simply going to remind you that when Jesus promised that the Spirit would guide these men into all the truth, He was referring to the New Testament writings. The Spirit guides us by these words. We do not need the Spirit to guide us into truth that is not already disclosed to us in the Bible. The Spirit has, in the words of verse 13, spoken what He has heard from the Father and the Son in order to disclose it to us. And the entirety of it all points us to Jesus Christ. If one possesses a great knowledge of the Bible, but that knowledge has not drawn him or her into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ, then they have misunderstood whatever knowledge of the Bible that they have.

Just as Jesus has made the Father known to us through His incarnation as the Living Word of God, so the Spirit has made Christ known to us through the written Word of God. As we read the New Testament, we are brought immediately into an encounter with the glory of Jesus Christ. The critics of the Bible will say that the early followers of Jesus invented a story by knitting together bits of mythology and folklore and presented it in order to lead ignorant and gullible people astray. My friends, nothing could be further from the truth. When you consider that in mere moments after Jesus spoke these words, as He was being arrested and hauled off to face death, these disciples scattered like cockroaches, but then, not too long afterward, they boldly preached the good news of Jesus and stood up to their own threats of death, there is simply no other explanation than that these men had come under the powerful influence of God the Holy Spirit. And when you consider the wonderful truths that they have set forth in the writings of the New Testament – these men who were nothing more than common, ordinary folks without any proper theological training or religious pedigree – the only explanation possible is that the Holy Spirit did for them exactly what Jesus said He would do. He guided them into all the truth and disclosed to them all that He had heard from the Father and the Son.

Therefore, we have a Bible that we can believe and say with confidence that it is inspired, inerrant, and infallible, and that it has full authority over the lives of all men. It is the standard by which all human creeds and all human conduct is measured. In these writings, the Spirit of God has communicated with His church, and this Word is what the Spirit communicates to the world through His church. And this means that, not only is it true and trustworthy, it is enough. We are not awaiting new information. We do not need “lost” or “missing gospels.” We do not need more books, like the Quran or the Book of Mormon. The Spirit of God did not inspire those writings. He inspired these. We measure all other writings against this one. If they say what this book says, we don’t need them; and if they say what this book doesn’t say, we don’t want them.

It is to our advantage that Jesus has departed and returned to His Father, and sent His Spirit to us. Had it not been so, then in order to hear the words of Jesus, we would have to go to wherever He is and crowd into whatever sort of assembly we could find and maybe be close enough to make out what He is saying. But the Spirit of Truth, whom He has sent, is our advantage, for now, if we want to hear Jesus speak, then all we need to do is open this glorious book and ask Him to illuminate our hearts to understand the wondrous truths which have been inspired for us herein. Everything that God has deemed it necessary for you to know God-in-Christ, to trust Him, and to live for Him in obedience has been declared through these Spirit-inspired words that we have in our Bibles.

So, friends, it matters not that there is no such thing as a Flux Capacitor that would enable us to travel back to see and hear Jesus during His days upon the earth. It is to our advantage, in fact, for He has sent the Spirit to convict us, to convert us, to indwell and empower us, and to speak to us through the revelation of God’s Word. Christians are the most privileged people in the world, for we have this infinite and eternal divine advantage of God the Holy Spirit. Let us believe this, and live as though we do.

There aren’t a lot of great hymns about the Holy Spirit, but one that I think is among the better ones is called “The Comforter Has Come.” In the final stanza , the hymnwriter says this, and with these words I conclude: “O boundless love divine! How shall this tongue of mine to wond’ring mortals tell the matchless grace divine – That I, a child of hell, should in his image shine? The Comforter has come!” He has come to us! And He has come to convict the world and to communicate the Lord Jesus to His Church.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 173.
[2] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentaries; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 533.
[3] Charles Gore, cited in Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 696, fn. 17.
[4] Cited in Robert Mounce, “John” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (rev. ed.; Vol. 10;Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 587.
[5] Christopher Darden, In Contempt (New York: Harper, 1997). This excerpt taken from back cover.
[6] Carson, 538. 

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